Recording of Martin Luther King’s 1st “I Have a Dream” speech discovered In this Aug. 28, 1963 photo, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, gestures during his "I Have a Dream" speech as he addresses thousands of civil rights supporters gathered in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo)
Recording of Martin Luther King’s 1st “I Have a Dream” speech discovered
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Before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech to hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington in 1963, he perfected his civil rights message. That was before a much smaller audience in North Carolina.
 
Reporters had covered King's 55-minute speech at a high school gymnasium in Rocky Mount. It was on Nov. 27, 1962. But a recording was not known to exist until English professor Jason Miller found a reel-to-reel tape It was in a town library. Miller played it in public for the first time Aug. 11 at North Carolina State University.
 
"It is part civil rights address. It is part mass meeting. And it has the spirit of a sermon," Miller said. "And I never before heard Dr. King combine all those genres into one particular moment."
 
King used the phrase "I have a dream" eight times in his address. It was to about 2,000 people at Booker T. Washington High School in Rocky Mount. It was eight months before electrifying the nation with the same words at the March on Washington.
 
He also referred to "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners." He said he dreamed they would "meet at the table of brotherhood." King changed that to "sit down together at the table of brotherhood" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In both speeches, "Let Freedom Ring" served as his rallying cry.
 
"It is not so much the message of a man," said the Rev. William Barber. He is president of the state chapter of the NAACP. "It is the message of a movement. Which is why he kept delivering it. It proves once again that the 'I have a dream' portion was not a good climax to a speech for mere applause. It was an lasting call to hopeful resistance and a nonviolent challenge to injustice."
 
Miller discovered the recording while researching "Origins of the Dream." It is his book exploring similarities between King's speeches and the poetry of Langston Hughes. His ah-ha moment came when he learned through a newspaper story about a transcript of the speech in state archives. If there is a transcript, then there must be a recording, he thought.
 
He sent emails and made calls until he eventually heard back in the fall of 2013 from the Braswell Public Library in Rocky Mount. The library staff said a box with the recording had mysteriously appeared on a desk one day. Handwriting on the box described it as a recording of King's speech. It said, "please do not erase."
 
Before listening to the recording, Miller confirmed that the 1.5-millimeter acetate reel-to-reel tape could be played safely. He brought it to an audio expert in Philadelphia. The expert, George Blood, set it as close to its original levels as he could. Then Blood, whose clients include the Library of Congress, digitized the tape.
 
It proved fortunate for King that he had practiced the dream part of his speech in Rocky Mount and later in Detroit. That is because it was not part of his typewritten speech in Washington. Historians say the singer Mahalia Jackson shouted "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" as he reached a slow point in his prepared text. King then improvised. He lit up the audience with phrases very similar to those he had delivered in that gymnasium.
 
Three people who were in the audience that day in 1962 listened again as the recording was played at the university's James B. Hunt Library. Herbert Tillman was about 17 years old at the time of the Rocky Mount speech. He recalled how happy they were to see and hear such an inspiring leader.
 
"Everybody was attentive to what he had to say," Tillman said. "And the words that he brought to Rocky Mount were words of encouragement that we really needed in Rocky Mount at that time."
 
Barber said this newly available recording of King's earlier speech - urging blacks to focus on voting rights and peacefully but forcefully push for change - is just as inspiring today.
 
"Make no mistake. This kind of speech-making is dangerous," Barber said. "Especially for those who want to go back. Especially for those who want the status quo because this kind of speech-making can loose the captive and set people free to stand up and fight for their own freedom."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How is this recording made in North Carolina connected to the speech Martin Luther King gave in Washington?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (12)
  • zitlalicr-qui
    9/03/2015 - 05:20 p.m.

    I'm glad that Martin Luther King gave that speech because I have a friend who is dark skinned and when we were on the bus we said if he never gave that speech we would've never been best friends :)

  • benk-mil
    9/18/2015 - 03:34 p.m.

    This article is about a professor finding a tape of Martin Luther King Jr.'s I have a dream speech. Finding the reel is a great historic discovery. It is important to know the people that shaped our nation. Martin Luther King Junior is a prime example of a person who changed America. Martin used the phrase "I have a dream" eight times during his speech because his dream was to have a greater America where races of all kinds would come together hand and hand.

  • akern-wim
    10/21/2015 - 02:13 p.m.

    Martin Luther King Jr. was a great leader in the civil rights movement. He fought what he believe in and for other peoples beliefs to. He is the greatest leader I think in the world. If he didn't fought for my rights and his rights I wouldn't probably go to a great school like the school I go to now. Martin Luther king Jr. one of the greatest leaders rest in peace M.L.K.

  • piperg.-her
    10/27/2015 - 09:14 a.m.

    i think i have a dream is importent luther had a strong mind to put his bravery to this he tried and tried to do it and he tried ti free the black also rose parker they both tried but when luther was shot thats when it stoped and im proud of him and his opinion he was a great peroson

  • romans-1-hol
    1/07/2016 - 02:02 p.m.

    This was a great article

  • miriamv-hol
    1/29/2016 - 10:47 a.m.

    Wow I love mlk he was am amazing man

  • coltonw-but
    3/18/2016 - 09:39 a.m.

    How is this recording made in North Carolina connected to the speech Martin Luther King gave in Washington?
    It's connected by Dr. King saying that he has a dream like eight times in the speech he gave in North Carolina. Also, in the speech in North Carolina he talks about brother hood just like the march in Washington. That is how the speech in North Carolina connected to the march in Washington.

  • michaell-but
    3/18/2016 - 09:40 a.m.

    How is this recording made in North Carolina connected to the speech Martin Luther King gave in Washington? The speech he made in North Carolina led him to he " I Have A Dream" speech in 1963.He says part of he American Dream speech in North Carolina. King i it because over and over again to prove that he had a dream.

  • roberth1-but
    3/18/2016 - 09:42 a.m.

    The recording in North Carolina is connected to the speech because he didn't plan on using the phrase "I have a dream" but whenever he improvised and said it it had a big impact. He then went on to use it in the speech at Washington, where the phrase became famous as a quote for black freedom and to end segregation.

  • gagem-but
    3/18/2016 - 01:16 p.m.

    How is this recording made in North Carolina connected to the speech Martin Luther King gave in Washington?

    The recording in North Carolina is connected to the speech in Washington in a couple different ways. First was speech was almost the exact same. MLK said " I have a dream" in both speeches and said almost the same thing. He worded his second speech a little differently, for example,"He said he dreamed they would "meet at the table of brotherhood."King changed that to "sit down together at the table of brotherhood.""

    The finding of this recording is very interesting to the American public. We now know that MLK practically practiced his " I have a dream" to a much smaller audience. In conclusion the Rocky Mount speech is very similar to the Washington speech, we now know this due to the discovery.

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